The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
By I. Windslow Ayer
Public Domain Books
The trial before the Military Commission in Cincinnati, just concluded, was in many respects one of the most remarkable events of the war. The investigation has elicited testimony of the most startling character, showing conclusively to the minds of all reasonable men who have given to it careful, earnest attention that there was a most formidable, deep and well arranged conspiracy, which, but for timely discovery and judicious action, would have resulted most disastrously, not only to the particular cities and towns specified and doomed to destruction, but to the whole country. None can contemplate the danger through which we have passed without a shudder and without a recognition of the hand of a merciful Providence who has guided our beloved country in its darkest hours and who has crowned our struggles for liberty and union with glorious victory.
To have proclaimed to the public, even a few short months ago, that a scheme had been concocted in Richmond, of so vast and formidable a character, so insidious in its operations, so complete in its details that it had found favor and support in all the great cities and towns in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, Iowa, and sections of other States that scarcely a village was exempt from its corruption, that it numbered in its ranks more traitors in the aggregate than the number of brave men in the combined armies of the gallant Grant and Sherman, and that all who had thus united recognised but one common cause–the destruction of our country, the defeat and humiliation of our people, and the triumph of the Rebellion–the author of such a proclamation would have been written down a madman or a fool, by most persons in the community; and yet the developments before the military tribunal have established the fact, to the eternal infamy of all who were leagued in the conspiracy.
As the trial opened, and the charges if the indictment were made public, all sympathisers with the conspiracy affected to disbelieve its existence, and raised their eyes and hands to Heaven, in pious horror, and prayed that justice might be meted out to the accused, who were, they claimed, the best of citizens, the most devout Christians, the most zealous patriots, the most earnest advocates of law and order, and that their accusers might be shunned of all good men forever. To this prayer the accused will scarce utter the response, Amen! Even some good, careful, honest Union men, astonished at the startling revelations, refused, for a time, to believe that there was any truth in the allegations against the prisoners; by degrees, however, as corroborative evidence accumulated, the truth was forced upon their minds, and there are now few persons of ordinary intelligence and candor, who have not been able to discover that “there was something in it, after all,” and that we have been Providentially saved a most terrible disaster.
But the investigation has been lengthy, and the reports in the newspapers have been brief and irregular, and few, comparatively, there are who have heard or read all of even the more important testimony, or appreciate fully the vast magnitude of the conspiracy; and there are many who having read only the indictment, have conceived the idea that if the charges therein alleged are true, the crime was confined to a few desperate and wicked men in Chicago alone, and that, therefore, it possessed but a local interest. Such a conclusion is wholly groundless. The history of this conspiracy is of the most vital interest for the people of every State in the Union, for had the conspirators not been foiled at a most opportune moment, their plans would have been successful in every particular, and once in operation they could not have been frustrated by any force we could have arrayed against them; and who shall say that had the savage hordes of Jeff. Davis then been turned loose upon an unarmed community, to carry desolation and ruin as they should sweep over our fair States, that to-day the Southern rebels would be, as they now are, in their last extremity–that victory would now be perched upon our banners wherever our noble pioneers of freedom advance, and that our brave boys of the Potomac would now be reposing from, their labors in the halls of the rebel capitol! Those who, upon investigation, fail to recognise the magnitude, the sagacity, the completeness of this Northwestern Conspiracy, and realise its immense importance to the rebel chieftains at the South, corroborated as the evidence before the Commission has been by incidents of almost daily occurrence for many months, have not learned to read correctly the history of the Great Southern Rebellion. If an idea ever entered the heads of malcontents at the North to establish a Northwestern Confederacy, it was speedily chased away by the more promising schemes of the arch traitor late of Richmond. It is to collect facts already elicited, and to give further information, and with a hope of aiding the cause of the Union so sacred and dear to us all, that the writer has yielded to the oft-repeated requests of his friends to present a connected and concise history of the Northwestern Conspiracy.